The Toronto Blue Jays and Oakland A’s were old hands at postseason baseball by the time they met in the 1992 ALCS. The two teams faced each other in 1989, when Oakland rolled to a pennant and later a World Series title. The A’s had also been here in 1988 and 1990. The Blue Jays had also been to this round in 1985 and 1991. But while Oakland was a proven champion, Toronto had yet to get to a World Series. 1992 was the time to rectify that.
You can read more about the regular season journeys of the A’s and Blue Jays, and the performances of their key players, at the links below. This article will focus squarely on the games of the 1992 American League Championship Series.
Toronto’s Jack Morris and Oakland’s Dave Stewart were the very definition of big-game pitchers for their era and they squared off in the series opener on Wednesday night. By virtue of the rotation system that determined homefield advantage, the ALCS would open at Toronto’s Skydome.
The A’s got to Morris in the second inning. Harold Baines singled, and that was followed by home runs from Mark McGwuire and Terry Steinbach for a 3-0 lead. The Blue Jays chipped back in the middle innings on solo blasts from Pat Borders and Dave Winfield, but Oakland still held a 3-2 lead as the game went to the eighth.
With two outs in the bottom of the inning, Toronto got a double from Dave Winfield. Stewart was removed for Jeff Russell, but the setup man couldn’t stop John Olerud from lining a single to center to tie the game. Morris was still in for Toronto, but Baines got him one more time—with a home run down the right field line. This time the lead stood up and the 4-3 win gave the A’s early control of the series.
Toronto had acquired David Cone at the trade deadline and this kind of virtual must-win game at home on Thursday night was the reason why. He squared off with Oakland’s Mike Moore and both pitchers quickly settled in.
The game was scoreless until the fifth. The A’s had a chance to break through when they put runners on second and third. But a couple big strikeouts from Cone kept the scoreless tie intact. Until the Blue Jays came to the plate. Kelly Gruber hit a two-run blast for the game’s first runs. Two innings late, Gruber doubled and scored to give Cone a 3-0 lead.
Cone was removed in the ninth after allowing a leadoff triple to Ruben Sierra. Tom Henke, the closer came on. Baines’ RBI single brought to the tying run to the plate in the person of McGwire. The big first baseman hit the ball well, but got underneath it just enough to keep it in the park. The deep fly out to right was Oakland’s best shot in a 3-1 loss.
The A’s still had three games coming up home and the first one was a noon start local time on Saturday afternoon. Oakland sent postseason veteran Ron Darling to face Toronto’s talented young 16-game winner Juan Guzman.
An early error by A’s third baseman Carney Lansford resulted in a Blue Jay run and fourth-inning home run by Roberto Alomar nudged Toronto out to a 2-zip lead. Oakland made their first move in the bottom of the fourth. Sierra doubled to start a two-run rally that included another key base hit from Baines. The game was tied 2-2, the bases were loaded and there was nobody out. Mike Bordick lifted a fly ball to right. McGwire tagged up from third. Jays’ rightfielder Joe Carter threw him out at the plate. Toronto had turned back a potentially big inning and then immediately got a solo blast from Candy Maldonado to start the fifth.
The starting pitchers each made it through six innings and the score stayed 3-2 into the seventh. An error by Bordick opened the door to a two-run triple by Manny Lee and the Jays were up 5-2. The A’s countered with three singles, wrapped around a walk and stolen base by Rickey Henderson to get the two runs back and make it 5-4.
Russell came on in the eighth and for the second time in this series, struggled. He walked Winfield and with the 40-year-old later on third base, Russell uncorked a wild pitch that allowed the run. It proved to be a big run, because Oakland got something going against Henke in their own half of the eighth, getting runners on first and third with one out.
Lansford was at the plate and when he popped out, it looked like Henke would escape. But Sierra blooped a single to make it a 6-5 game and gave the red-hot Baines a chance to be a hero. Alas, Henke got Baines to ground out. Toronto added one more insurance run off Oakland’s MVP closer Dennis Eckersley in the ninth and won 7-5.
The two teams came back again at noon on Sunday. Morris took the ball on short rest for Toronto, while Oakland turned to veteran Bob Welch. And the Blue Jay offense seemed to pick up where they left off, with a home run from Olerud staking Morris to a 1-0 lead in the second inning.
But in the bottom of the third, the A’s bats got rolling. They peppered Morris for five hits, along with two walks and rang up five runs. They were in position to get more before Bordick grounded into a double play that kept the score 5-1.
Oakland rallied again the fourth and chased Morris with runners on the corners and one out. Todd Stottlemyre came out of the bullpen and delivered for the Jays. He got Sierra on a weak grounder that couldn’t bring in the run and then retired Baines.
Sierra ripped a two-out double in the sixth and came around to score. The lead was stretched to 6-1 and stayed that way until the eighth. Roberto Alomar led off the Toronto frame with a double. Welch was removed. It was simply up to the Oakland bullpen, so reliable all year, to get the final six outs and put the ball back in Dave Stewart’s hands the following afternoon. Even with Russell ineffective, Oakland manager Tony LaRussa had other options and he went to Jeff Parrett.
It didn’t help. Carter and Winfield each got hits and LaRussa was forced to go to Eckersley early. Olerud and Maldonado greeted Eck with base hits. Suddenly the score was 6-4, there were runners on first and second and still nobody out. Eckersley shut it down from there, and celebrated by shaking his fist at the Blue Jay dugout.
The celebration was premature. Devon White singled to start the Toronto ninth and Alomar homered to tie the game. LaRussa had to pull Eckersley, as Toronto loaded up the bases again with two outs. Jim Corsi finally got a big out for the A’s, keeping the score 6-6.
Oakland was poised to win it in the ninth. Baines singled. Pinch-runner Eric Fox stole second and was bunted over to third with one out. But Toronto’s Duane Ward got Steinbach and Lansford to to kill the threat.
It was one more missed opportunity for the A’s offense and it would be their last. Toronto picked up a run in the eleventh, Henke slammed the door and the Blue Jays had a commanding 3-1 series lead, with two home games still in tow.
The Blue Jays stood on the cusp of their first pennant, but it wasn’t going to happen against Stewart in his own backyard. Sierra hit a two-run blast off Cone early in the game for a 2-0 lead. Jerry Browne filled in for Lansford at third base and delivered a four-hit game, including an RBI single in the third.. Oakland added three more in the fifth. Stewart went the distance, pitching a seven-hitter and winning 6-2.
Toronto’s history of postseason failures meant no one in Canada was taking anything for granted. Especially because one of those failings—in 1985—involved blowing a 3-1 series lead and losing the final two games at home.
But not this year. In a late Wednesday afternoon start, the Blue Jay bats unloaded early and often against Moore. Carter hit a two-run blast in the first. Olerud added to the lead with an RBI single. And Maldonado blew it open in the third, with a three-run homer that made it 6-0. The rest of the afternoon and early evening was a party atmosphere in Skydome, with the Jays cruising to a 9-2 win.
Alomar was named 1992 ALCS MVP and it was a deserved honor. He finished the series with a stat line of .464 on-base percentage/.692 slugging percentage and his Game 4 home run off Eckersley remains the moment that defines this series, even more than 25 years later.
Credit also has to Olerud, Winfield and Maldonado, who were consistent bats throughout. And Devon White set the table effectively with a .448 OBP in the leadoff spot. Guzman’s two wins, including the Game 6 clincher, led the starting pitching, while Henke saved the three close games and didn’t allow a run.
Baines was the star on the Oakland side, with a stat line of .440/.640, including the game-winning home run in Game 1 that seemed like it might set the tone for the series. Sierra was excellent, at .357/.625. But Toronto was able to pitch around McGwire. The big slugger drew five walks, but didn’t get a chance to make a big enough impact with his bat.
For the A’s, this series was the end of an era. They would not return to postseason play until 2000. They did not reach the ALCS again until 2006. And they’ve yet to get back to the World Series.
Toronto had more champagne in their future. They finished the job in 1992, beating the Atlanta Braves in the World Series. And the Blue Jays came back in 1993 and did it again.